We grabbed 5 minutes with Malorie (she’s a very busy lady these days!) to ask her a few burning questions.
What was the best thing about being Children’s Laureate?
All the people I got to meet and the new places I had a chance to visit. I travelled to Northern Ireland for the first time which I really enjoyed. I visited a number of schools and libraries to talk to teens up and down the country and it was fun, informative and so rewarding, though exhausting. It was also wonderful to be a part of YALC – the Young Adult Literature Convention (and a part of the London Film and Comic Con) – which is now in its 3rd year. I wanted very much to bring teens to books and books to teens and to celebrate YA book excellence.
Tell us a bit about your new book Chasing the Stars?
Chasing The Stars is very loosely based on Shakespeare’s Othello but that said, you don’t need to know anything about the play to read my book. It’s a sci-fi story set in outer space about a girl called Olivia (or Vee for short) who rescues some human refugees who are under attack. She falls in love with one of them, Nathan but then her brother Aidan starts to poison her mind against Nathan with tragic results. And along the way, Vee has to solve the mystery of who has started picking off the refugees, and why?
What was your favourite book as a child?
‘The Silver Chair’ by C.S. Lewis, followed closely by New Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology. I loved myths, legends and fairy stories from around the world as a child. Actually, I still do!
What’s your favourite book you’ve read recently?
Can I have two?! One by Sarah Crossan and The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood-Hargrave.
Which of your own books was your favourite to write?
My books are like my babies so you’re asking me to choose a favourite one! I suppose, if I have to pick just one, then it has to be Noughts & Crosses. It was a challenging, painful, cathartic and ultimately very satisfying book to write.
Which of your characters do you think you’re most similar to?
Well, my books are fiction, as are all my characters, but of all the characters I’ve created, Callum’s personality from Noughts and Crosses is probably closest to my own, at least when I was a teenager.
What inspired you to become a writer?
A love of stories and reading. ‘Let’s pretend’ games are an integral part of children’s play – or should be. I spent most Saturdays during my early years at the library, drinking in fairy stories, myths and legends, classics, contemporary stories, fantasy, science-fiction and anything else I could lay my hands on. I also wrote stories and poems for my own amusement but it never, ever occurred to me as a child or teenager that I could become a published writer. But in my mid 20s, after a few years in computing, I decided that I would make strenuous efforts to become an author. I think trying and failing is far better than never having the guts to try at all.
What would you do if you weren’t a writer?
I guess there’s a parallel universe somewhere in which I still commute into the City Of London every day and beat my brains out in the Financial Sector. And then there’s another universe in which I ended up as an English Teacher somewhere. In this universe, I like to think that I’d still be involved in the world of literature in some way, maybe as an editor or as an agent or bookseller – something to do with books.
What would your top tips be for anyone who wanted to be a writer?
Read, read and then read some more. After that write, write and then write some more! I don’t believe you can be a writer unless you have a feel for the way words play together on the page. And the way you get that is to read – voraciously! Try reading books from different genres, even genres you’re not so keen on. You may be pleasantly surprised. Give it a try. Try to analyse what you like and what you don’t like in each book you read, to help you in your own writing. Develop your own style, don’t copy anyone. And don’t give up.
What inspired you to write Noughts & Crosses?
There wasn’t any one thing. It grew out of a lifetime of experiences. Some of the racist incidents in the book were based on real events from my own childhood. And I also wanted to play with the idea that ‘history is luck’ to a certain extent. What if Africans had invented trans-oceanic travel and colonized Europe and America? Or what if the Aztecs and Incas had ‘beaten Cortez to the punch’ and converted the Catholics in Spain and Portugal at the point of a sword? You put all that together and you have the germ of an idea which led to Noughts and Crosses.
Do you think racism is an issue that needs to be addressed in children’s books more?
Absolutely! And not just in Children’s books. I think a lot of racism comes out of ignorance and fear, and we can start to combat it by showing different cultures, races, religions in story contexts. Stories promote empathy, a sense of being able to see through the eyes of others and being able to walk in another person’s shoes. That said, we also need more books which feature children of colour, children with disabilities, working class children, LGBT teens, etc which are just about children and teens having adventures and not necessarily about their disability, colour, culture, religion. Books should be mirrors as well as windows.
I generally make my major characters black because that’s who and what I am and I’m started writing in part to redress the imbalance regarding ethnic diversity in children’s literature that I felt acutely as a child, but the ethnic identity of my characters is never the whole story. I try to make my characters real people who are trying to live their lives and deal with their problems. For example, a black boy who needs a heart transplant is pretty much the same as a white boy who needs a heart transplant (Pig Heart Boy).
How do you think we can keep children and teenagers reading or encourage those who don’t like reading at all?
I believe that we have to get children interested in reading from the time they’re born by showing them how reading opens so many doors. If a child tells me they don’t like reading, I always say, ‘You haven’t found the right books for you yet!’ First of all, our children should be encouraged to read what interests them – comics, football stories, paranormal romances, classics, whatever! Most classics are classics for a reason, because they contain stories that still speak to us, stories that endure. But very few teenagers are going to tackle Dostoyevsky for example, without having read a few lighter, more contemporary novels first. Part of reading for pleasure is letting our children and young adults chose the books they want to read for themselves. We have to engage our children with reading. Then reading Dostoyevsky and Bronte and Dickens and Milton and a host of wonderful others will come.
How many books have you written?
Sixty-nine published titles
Do you like reading e-books? Do you think they will stop print books being produced?
I must admit I find reading e-books very convenient. I love having over 200 books in my handbag at any one time on one device. I travel a lot, and there is no way I could carry hundreds of paperbacks around with me. But printed books are my reading weapon of choice! I love the smell and the feel of them. I love that crackling noise you get as you riffle through the pages for the first time and I love the way I can touch something tangible and physical. I also love the way I can pass on a physical book to share with others, like members of my family. You can’t really do that with e-books without handing over your whole device.
Do you ever worry that teens might struggle with the complex or gritty issues in your books?
No! We need to stop underestimating our teens. As a teen that kind of attitude used to drive me nuts. The erroneous belief that I couldn’t understand the nuances of certain ‘grown-up’ issues because I was just a teen. If we defer the consideration of ‘gritty issues’ until after the teen years, then we do our teens a huge disservice. If we want mature, responsible teenagers making good decisions about drugs and sex and other issues, then we have to expose them to the complexity of these subjects early enough to make a difference.
And the fact is, if a teen picks up a book and gets nothing from it or feels it’s too old or not right for them, they will either skim read over the parts they don’t care for or put the book down. We really need to get past this idea that teens can’t think for themselves and we adults have to do their thinking for them.
What’s the best thing about being an author?
I love being my own boss and being able to write on subjects about which I care passionately. My favourite kinds of letters are those from young adults who say that my books have helped them through difficult times or that my books have helped them to develop a love of reading. Those kinds of letters keep me going!
How does it feel to be mentioned in a Tinie Tempah song?
Weird! I got way more excited by that than someone of my *cough* mature years should have!
What do you like doing in your spare time to relax?
I play the piano (badly) and I used to play the drums. I also read, compose music on my computer and play World of Warcraft! (I’m a level 100 warlock, mage, death knight and hunter!)